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Musicians: Sugar Ray & The Bluetones featuring Mike Welch

Audio CD (October 18, 2011)

Label: Severn



Hearing this new offering from Sugar Ray Norcia and the Bluetones without looking at the cover, the listener could be forgiven for thinking this set is a long lost nugget from the Chess vaults now released for the first time. Everything about the 12 songs collected here are unmistakable throwbacks to late ‘50s, early ‘60s Chicago blues.   

For one matter, the deep, rich, seasoned vocals of Norcia should remind old-timers of the likes of Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams who were song stylists as much as blues singers.    For another, the band is a stripped-down ensemble that plays it all straight. While 9 of the songs are originals, they sure sound like standards heard in clubs and bars for decades. And the production is often a bit on the dirty, muddy side which makes some tracks sound like they were performed on the original microphones and equipment used before studios went digital.

Of course, Norcia’s roots go back far enough to make it all feel and sound credible. He was a founding member of the old Roomful of Blues before forming the first Bluetones in 1979. So it’s not surprising that this album, his first since 2007, channels the ghosts of blues masters past and present and runs a full range of styles and moods.   The three cover songs start with Johnny Young’s “I’m Having a Ball,” a jumper that opens the album with Norcia’s harp almost over-driven on the mic. Norcia’s vocals are as soulful as it gets on Otis Rush’s “You Know My Love” and the haunting “Evening” which features an extended harmonica solo on a track previously recorded by T-Bone Walker and the aforementioned Jimmy Rushing.

In terms of the original material, Norcia claims he came to the studio with lyrics in hand but let his current line-up all contribute to the finished tracks. For example,  “Hard To Get Along With” showcases guitarist “Monster” Mike Welch driven by  drummer Neil Gouvin, bassist Michael “Mudcat” Ward and pianist Anthony Geraci. They all have their occasions to shine as the musical menu expands into various territories. The country-flavored “Dear John” evokes Jimmy Reed, and “Too  Many Rules And Regulations” is a talking blues overview of, well, all the do’s and don’ts we all hear everyday. “Dancing Bear” opens with a Native-American flute before paying homage to an Indian boy and his lost culture. On one hand, we get the beautiful “(That's Not Yet) One Of My Blues”—which ought to become a standard for other artists—and on the other we get the Good-time shuffle, “I'm Certain That I'm Hurting.”

In short, Evening borders on being a primer in Old, Old, Old School Blues. It’s spare but melodic, gritty but tuneful, familiar but fresh, especially with the vocal delivery and lyrics. If you don’t have the blues already, you’ll want some.

Click Here To Purchase Evening